Friday, December 2, 2011


Starting early Spring driving around Lake Tahoe is delightful.  The shoreline is extensive and rich in aquatic treasures.  Each stop is filled with surprises.  Not only is each locale exquisite in a primordial sort of way, but also the views offer luxurious vistas.  Snow capped mountains and pine forests worthy of Hallmark calendars greet the eye.

Straddling California and Nevada like and opalescent jewel, the lake is the second deepest lake in the US, in fact one of the deepest lakes in the world.  Like Lake Baikal in Siberia, it is pure and crystalline, escaping the worst ravages of modernization.

Approaching the lake from California on Highway 50 reveals magnificent views and the climb down the Sierra Nevada mountain is vertiginous with distant water beckoning from below.  With signature white beaches on the left, encircling the lake soon brings you to South Lake Tahoe, the most urban of settlements in the  region. The small city sits on the California/Nevada state border.  Cross the stop light and you're in Casino country.  The Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe is glitzy with neon and a handful of high-rise hotels, and that's it: a self contained dot on the map with a very small foot print; a testament to high density urban growth, a good argument against sprawl.

Moving along, the Nevada side of the lake disappears for a bit, hidden by state forest.  Soon, the lake reappears where it is particularly stunning in its unspoiled, less traveled state.

Long stretches of lake shore are yours for the taking.  As in taking in the views, taking pictures, and better yet, taking that lunch out of the cooler and enjoying a cool refreshing break.  The best place to picnic is the sand is Sand Harbor Beach.

As the name implies there is plenty of sand to stretch out and roam.

Huge granite boulders were dropped on the North Eastern stretch by the last of the glaciers receding North forever.

With something for everyone: lazy sand, accessible paths for people with disabilities or for easy strolling, and with rocks for climbing by children of every age, including the young at heart, this spot is probably one of the best on the lake.

On to the North shore.  It is cold in the Spring with wind picking up speed across the open water to the South and the snowy mountains to the North exhaling their cold breath down your neck.  But a sunny crisp cold day is invigorating.

Tahoe locals claim "the West is the Best".  Meaning the West shore on the California side.  It may be.  There are numerous beaches, harbors, and cabins, with easy access to ski resorts, which in the summer make excellent hiking destinations.

Best of all, there is glorious camping.  Sugar Pine State Park is gorgeous and offers biking, hiking, swimming, and great spots to pitch a tent.  The park links wooded mountains to the shore as it spans both sides of the highway.

You might stumble onto some woodland surprises while exploring a trail, or two... and discover rare woodland flowers.

The lake is undoubtedly the main attraction.  If you do stay and camp, Sugar Pines State Beach at dusk is yours: the casual tourist is gone.  The lake is beautifully accessible.  Walk a brisk couple of miles from the campsite or drive on the park road and the water greets you with its blue immensity, soon it will be lapping at your feet as it gently splashes on the sandy shore.

The sand is amazingly pure and clean having recently evolved from the smallest of pebbles.  And there's plenty of it, wide and far.  A ribbon of sand invites sinking steps along the way, enticing bare feet to feel it's granular texture.  So seduced, your feet will instantly reward you with a tingly cold sensation so tactile they might as well be hands walking.
Nature permeates everything and gazing across that blue expanse heightens your awareness and soothes the soul.
Strolling, gamboling, walking, or gazing at the water and sky shifting first to yellow, then red and finally to purple sliding to grey is a magical time for playing with giant logs and making driftwood tepees.

Nightfall reveals intricate sand patterns and water channels previously unnoticed, now highlighted by waning light and tenuous reflections.

Heading home you may think the lake has offered all it has, but driving back reveals one last parting surprise.  It is a triple whammy: three treats in one. Small pine-studded Fannette Island lies nestled in secluded jewel-shaped Emerald  Bay, which is in turn fed by Eagles Fall as the water cascades and tumbles down,  This visual trinity emerges from around the bend; island and bay far below the road and waterfall ahead.  Fortunately, there are places to pull over and take in the view, which is breathtaking.

Emerald Bay is a National Natural Landmark, an Underwater State Park, and the area is home to one of the earliest Scandinavian style Mansion, Vikingsholm, offering historical sightseeing in addition to exceptional camping.  That may very well be, yet another adventure....

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